51 coal wagons were derailed following the sabotage of the Richards Bay coal export railway line. Photo: Supplied (Untu)

DURBAN - The United National Transport Union (Untu) has expressed shock and revulsion at the "blatant sabotage" of the Richards Bay coal export railway line in KwaZulu-Natal, which took place on Thursday and led to the line being closed.  

Those responsible should face the most severe sentence possible, Untu general secretary Steve Harris said on Saturday. 

The railway line was cut with a blowtorch, causing 51 wagons filled with coal to derail. There were no injuries among the train's crew. The wagons were part of a 200 wagon shipment heading to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal. Engineers were on site on Saturday to repair the line, but Transnet declared force majeure on the coal shipment, meaning unforeseeable circumstances prevented it from fulfilling its contract. Untu represents 28,000 members at Transnet. 

“Untu is extremely shocked to see that criminals have so little regard for the lives of our members and for our crippled economy, that they will remorselessly set out to destroy families and the prosperity of the broader South African public," Harris said.

“The union condemns this horrific act in the strongest possible terms and appeals to the South African Police Service to leave no stone unturned to ensure that these criminals are caught so that the law can take it course,” he said. 

Untu appealed to the National Prosecuting Authority "to start charging criminals damaging essential state infrastructure" in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act. The union and its affiliates had fought hard for the legislation at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), Harris said. 

“The act states that any person who unlawfully and intentionally tampers with, damages, or destroys essential infrastructure or colludes with or assists another person in the commission, performance, or carrying out of the activity and who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that it is essential infrastructure, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a period of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years. Where the state can prove a corporate body is involved, the act allows for a fine not exceeding R100 million,” he said.

On December 20, Transnet announced that its interim profits had fallen sharply on the back of the weak economy and higher finance costs.

 African News Agency (ANA)